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NOTES THE CONFUSING DIALOGUE IN HEMINGWAY’S ‘A CLEAN, WELL-LIGHTED PLACE”: A FINAL WORD? Scott MacDonald Utica College In his generally sensible, but somewhat precipitant article, “Is Hemingway’s ‘Well-Lighted Place’ Really Clean Now?” Charles E. May shows how the long critical debate about the confusing dialogue in Hemingway’s “A Clean, Well-Lighted Place” resulted in Charles Scribner’s Sons changing the text of the story.1 Until recently “A Clean, Well-Lighted Place” was printed so that near the end of the long exchange which has caused so much confusion, the younger waiter says, “His niece looks after him,” and the older waiter responds,“I know.You said she cut him down.” In the last few years, however, the passage has been printed so that the younger waiter says, “His niece looks after him.You said she cut him down,’’and the older waiter responds, “I know.” Clearly this is a crucial difference. By changing the identity of the waiter who knows about the attempted suicide Scribner's has altered much of the story. One would expect that a change of this magnitude in one of the most highly respected and widely read of Twentieth Century short stories would be based either on a request by Hemingway himself or on evidence from a manuscript of the story. Unfortunately, neither was the case. As May points out, the change was apparently a result of the critical article “Tidying Up Hemingway’s Clean Well-Lighted Place” in which John V. Hagopian concluded that modifying the text was the only way of satisfactorily solving the difficulties caused by the dialogue.2 Hagopian recognized that to assume the passage was correct as originally published, it is necessary to suppose that in two instances during the exchange between the two waiters, Hemingway ignores conventional dialogue expectations and has a single speaker say two consecutive indented lines of dialogue. Hagopian refused to accept this possibility, he said, because it was not the simplest solution to the problem, because he felt there was no supporting evidence in the text, and because of his contention that nowhere else in Heming­ way’s fiction is such a device used even occasionally. As May sug­ gests, however, Hagopian’s arguments simply don’t hold water. The contention that a change in the text is the simplest way to solve the problem of the confusing passage is clearly ridiculous. Obviously, to alter a text and develop a wholly new interpretation of a story is 94 Notes more complicated than to suppose that Hemingway failed to follow normal conventions in a passage of dialogue. May also points up the weakness of Hagopian’s contention that there is nothing in the text itself to support the suggestion that in two instances a single speaker says two consecutive indented lines. A careful look at the text shows that it is quite possible that the younger waiter says, “He’s drunk now” and then after a pause, continues with the next indented line, “He’s drunk every night” ; and that later in the same passage the older waiter says, “He must be eighty years old” and then after a pause continues, “Anyway I should say he was eighty.”3 The one important weakness in May’s article is his failure to prove that, despite what Hagopian says, Hemingway does ignore normal dialogue conventions in other works. May cites a passage from A Farewell to Arms in which he believes that Hemingway has a character speak several consecutive indented lines. In the passage Rinaldi and Henry are discussing Catherine Barkley: “I will send her. Your lovely cool goddess. English goddess. My God what would a man do with a woman like that except worship her? What else is an Englishwoman good for?” “You are an ignorant foul-mouthed dago.” “A what?” “An ignorant wop.” “Wop. You are a frozen-faced . . . wop.” “You are ignorant. Stupid.” I saw that word pricked him and kept on. “Uninformed. Inexperienced, stupid from inexperience.”4 May apparently feels that Henry says “An ignorant wop” and both the following statements. While it may not be impossible to read the passage in this way, May’s interpretation is strained...

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Additional Information

ISSN
2158-5806
Print ISSN
0091-8083
Pages
pp. 93-101
Launched on MUSE
2015-05-05
Open Access
No
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